The issue of loneliness, in a romantic context, is not something I talk about publicly very often. It can easily take over my thoughts and become the only thing I talk about. It’s not what I want to be known for. But occasionally I do feel like there’s something I need to say, if not for my own benefit then for the defense of people who have been through the same things I have – because I know I’m not the only one. And since there is a common, very specific stance that the Church community tends to take on the subject, which I don’t entirely agree with, a blog post like this could turn out fruitless since it’s not likely to change minds. But if there’s something that needs to be said, it isn’t always for the purpose of getting people to agree with you; sometimes it’s for the sake of the few people out there who share your struggle, just to let them know that they’re not alone.
I have brought this issue before the elders of the Church community numerous times (elders in both age and office) and the prevalent response is “Get your relationship with God right first. If you have God then you don’t need a spouse. He will fulfill everything.” And for a long time I believed that was the answer – that somehow something was still missing between myself and God – that I wasn’t doing it right. And it made logical sense that the God of the universe would be able to fulfill my needs if I was in right standing with him. Why wouldn’t that make sense?
I had spent years trying to hone my relationship with God, and still am. (It is a good thing, by the way.) There are always greater depths and greater blessings to a closeness with God. Yet… Something was still missing. Is still missing. And I’ve had no small amount of spiritual turmoil trying to understand why it feels to me, inexplicably, that God is not enough.
The elders who have counseled me on this were not just spouting words. I know these guys – they are speaking from experience – just not my experience. The difference in perspective would probably be made clearer if we look at the fact that the older generations, in their time, married quite young, whereas the average age for marriage has been getting older and older in recent generations. So this is the order in which the older generation would have experienced things: Lonely => Fall in love => Fun, but not satisfied => Find God => Find Purpose => Satisfied. The conclusion then would be, “Life didn’t totally come together until I got serious about my walk with God, and therefore God is all you need.”
My generation, and maybe a few before, with getting married later in life have experienced things in a very different order, which goes like this: Lonely => Find God => Find Purpose, but something’s still missing => Fall in love => Life explosion => Satisfied. So our conclusion has been, “Finding God made sense out of everything. I know it’s the only relationship that matters, yet something was missing until I fell in love. Is something wrong with me?”
Part of the problem I had with figuring things out was that I had conflicted feelings, and was getting conflicting messages from Christian speakers, on how much of a priority Human Romance is to the Christian God. There are various Bible verses that you could look at individually and they would give very different messages on how important Romance is to God. But as with all apparent contradictions, I don’t choose some verses over others, but look at them all together and wrestle with them until they fit as a whole. And as I’ve often done when feeling lost about God’s plans, I went back to Genesis, with prayer, to try and get a sense of the first priorities, and hopefully put everything else in perspective.
This is where a glimpse of clarity finally came to me. Adam, in the beginning, was a perfect man – a perfect, sinless, unbroken man who lived in direct, perfect fellowship with God. There was no sin, there was no barrier, there was nothing at all hindering the relationship between Man and God. And yet… Something was missing. “It is not good for the man to be alone,” God said.
Alone? I thought the man was with God! And also surrounded by animals! How could he be alone? Creation is not “Good” again until after God creates Woman and brings her to the man. The woman made everything better. Why? Was God not good enough? Was Adam created with some flaw that makes him “need” something other than his great Provider?
God is fully capable of fulfilling all of our needs himself. He’s God. That’s the logical conclusion. But if all of reality were based on that single statement of logic then he would not have to give us food either, or air, or a planet to live on, because he would be all-sufficient. But God did not base the universe on that one statement of logic. He’s more creative than that. He wanted us to need other things as well – things which he provides – and in this way he is still the Provider.
God doesn’t fulfill our need for a physical companion, not because he lacks the power to do so, but because he wants us to need each other. It is better this way. He did not create Adam with a flaw that makes him need another person, God created him with a hunger. Which, like all hungers, is oh so sweet to satisfy.
Now, sometimes God does choose to fulfill this need himself, which I believe is what is referred to as the Gift or Calling of Celibacy. In this now-broken world with a lot of fixing to do, sometimes the plans that God has for someone doesn’t allow time for a romantic relationship, in which case God takes care of that need for fellowship himself. Does this mean that people with Celibacy are better than those without? No. I can think of some great leaders in the world who were married, and some that were not. It’s not a competition. I’ve taken tests to see if I have the gift of Celibacy – I do not. Far from it. So I’m still waiting for this longing to be fulfilled.
Is a relationship with Jesus Christ the most important relationship you can have? Yes. Absolutely. Is it the only one you need? Not by a long shot. Not unless you’re one of the few who has been given the calling of Celibacy. But for most of us, we are going to need both relationships.
What counsel is this for Christian folk who are still struggling with singleness? Not much. It hurts. It sucks. It’s supposed to. I’m no closer to being satisfied with the single life than I was when I started this search for answers. But at least now I know that there is a reason for this pain, that the pain is right, and that it’s not from some failure of spirituality on my part. That’s what I offer to my fellow, struggling singles – the pain is right.
great blog. We need more discussion in the church around singleness for sure.
Thanks, Brett. That means a lot.
WOW Ben!! So well written and thought out! I can’t say anything to you that you don’t already know obviously. What I can tell you is that you are the most amazing and caring man I know and when this lucky lady does come into your life you will both know that it was well worth the wait for each other.
A friend of mine sent me the link to your blog earlier today. Loved the read. I reblogged it in my own because I was actually thinking about blogging on singleness in the church today but you said it so much better than I would have that I thought I’d let you just take care of it. I hope that’s alright.
I agree, we need to have more conversations about adult singleness in the church, because there are so many people who either think of it as a disease/curse, or as a choice that we make and we’re being stubborn and we should just “do something about it.”
Anyway, thanks for your thoughts. Very well written!
No problem at all. 🙂
If it resonates with somebody then I guess I did something right, which is great validation. So thank you for that.
Yes, I have noticed people talking with me on the subject as if my singleness were a choice. It is annoying.
VERY annoying. Keep writing 🙂 You’re a good writer.
Really liked your blog. Love that you talked about God’s plan for us to need others. And I totally think the idea of getting in the right place with God before God will give you a partner is bunk and you nailed that. Bravo!
Sometimes there are things that we really want, need, desire, but we just don’t get them. Not sure why. My only advice is to be happy where you are in your life, enjoy what you can. This has nothing to do with pretending to not want a partner.
Thank you. 🙂
This is amazingly well written, Ben. I especially like that you take us right back to the very beginning of mankind and show us exactly what order God worked out our history of relationship with Him and a partner. Please keep writing about the concerns which we don’t usually see an answer to in our church communities. You have a wonderful way with words and make things much clearer.
When lost, I find that going back to the beginning can help put things in perspective.
Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂
I appreciate you writing this, mostly because we don’t often hear from men on this issue. I feel the heart of what you are saying. My only worry is, marriage was never promised to any of us. While Adam was a sinless, perfect man when Eve came into the picture, we now live in a sinful, imperfect world where God’s’ ideals are not always met. Man is definitely in need of relationship. Our God is a relational God. However, I wonder if we had truly authentic Christian friendships of genuine fellowship and consistent mutal encouragement…would our longing for marriage be as deep. Don’t get me wrong, for obvious reasons friendships are not the same as marriage, but they do help.
I just never want marriage to become an idol, and it often does. I don’t want to get stuck on it and not live out my life for Christ in fullness in this moment with what I now have because I’m so focused on what I don’t have. I don’t want to place hope in something that I have no entitlement to because the only hope we really have is set in eternity, not in the things of this world or this life. The fact is, God gave us many promises, but marriage simply wasn’t one of them. Please don’t think I’m trying to diminish your feelings at all, that’s not my intent. You’re right, the church doesn’t address this issue with much sensitivity, but rather than setting my gaze on MY marriage, I’d like to set it on the marriage between Christ and his bride, us. I’d like my life’s focus to be preparing myself for that groom because that will prepare me for any groom…should that ever happen.
I’m a 32 year old single with many married friends who also suffer from lonliness, so I’ve come to realize that marriage isn’t the cure for that. My experience has been that when I’m really involved in serving in my community and practicing my spiritual disciplines…I just don’t feel the lonliness I do otherwise. I encourage you to continue to pray through your singleness, but to pray the word and God’s promises. He knows your desires and when you set your heart on delighting in him and committing to and trusting in him, your desires and his desires for your life will align.
Thank you again for your openness and honesty.
Sorry for writing a book:)
Although I do believe that a friendship between the two people is an important part of making a marriage last, there is another element that won’t be found in general fellowship. – Romance. And again, whether or not God cares about the presence of romance in our lives is a subject of conflicting opinions. When I read the Bible as a whole, I see that romance may not always be an option, but I do see it as a priority. It’s a hunger. And in this broken world, obviously, not all hungers are being met.
Have I been promised marriage? I don’t know. But that’s not really the point. The point is whether or not this ache is supposed to be here. From what I can see, this ache is part of God’s design. Adam longed for something, before he even knew what that something was. Woman was not in the picture yet.
I agree that romance can become an idol – I’ve seen the dangers. That’s part of my wrestling match. Even if I don’t get what I’m looking for, in the way I want, I need to trust my Provider.
Thank you for your feedback. : )
When I read this I got reminded of a Bible verse. Luke 10:26-28:
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Also here it is said that it’s not only the love for God that will make you live, but also the love for others, and amongst them a significant other. Jesus could easily have just mentioned to love the Lord, but he mentioned the other one because that was just as great.
I really liked what you wrote here, good job!
Yes, I think both loves are important. Thank you marieolivia. 🙂
This is a huge struggle for me. It is something I hesitantly admit to my church friends (or anyone for that matter) merely because I feel shameful or stupid for even thinking that something is missing when I have Jesus in my life. I am so happy to have come across this blog post! Thank you so much!
Thank you for your comment, Hannah. It is encouraging to know that I’ve helped somebody. 🙂
Ben – Nice article. One of the reasons the world is broken today is because marriage and family and concerns of this world are worshipped as idols, and those few with the gift of celibacy and concern for the Lord’s affairs are disrespected and their opinions trivialized. Please see 1 Cor 7. And you may want to see a recent article I wrote on this subject (below). John
Thank you, John
The section you wrote on Misconceptions is particularly relevant. Thank you for helping me understand your world a little better.
“Get your relationship with God right first. If you have God then you don’t need a spouse. He will fulfill everything.” I have read this, heard this, have had it told to my face. Even started to believe it. Thank you so much for this post, I needed to read it.